"Majority" of Waterton townsite intact: Parks Canada

By Geoff Smith (@GeoffSmithLNN on Twitter)
September 12, 2017 - 12:04pm Updated: September 12, 2017 - 4:47pm

FORT McMURRAY - Parks Canada says the majority of the Waterton townsite is intact, as well as the Prince of Wales Hotel, as crews continue to battle a rapidly-spreading fire in the national park.

Premier Rachel Notley confirms what a video shows: the Waterton Park visitors centre has been lost, and some other structures. But they are outside the townsite.

"We know that Waterton is not only a home to the nearly 200 Albertans who live there, but it is a special place for hundreds of thousands of others, and the home of a national historic site," Notley said. "We know that Albertans care, we know that Albertans are capable, and we know from past situations like this that Albertans don't hesitate to step up and offer help."

"Firefighters worked tirelessly throughout the night to extinguish spot fires, monitor sprinkler protection, and protect facilities," the government said in a news release shortly before noon Tuesday, Sept. 12. "High volume pumps and sprinkler systems, in combination with planning and fuel management done in previous years, ensured the townsite perimeter held."

Notley said the fire spread quickly beyond the park, which is why portions of Cardston County and the M.D. of Pincher Creek were evacuated. 500 people are currenlty out of their homes. Notley added the rest of Cardston County and the M.D. of Pincher Creek will be placed on evacuation alert.

Forestry manager Bernie Schmidt said the fire changed direction around 5 p.m. Monday, moving six kilometres northeast over two hours into the Cameron Lake drainage and Akamina Parkway. The wind grounded the helicopters that had been used to drop water from buckets.

He explained embers from the main fire likely ignited the spot fires outside the park, and by 10 p.m. crews were unable to contain the grass fires, on both sides of Highway 6. It was active until around 3:30 a.m. when the wind died down. Since then operations to contain the grass fires have been successful. Schmidt was hopeful for success fighting the fire's eastern flank Tuesday.

"The aircraft are working the very edge of the fire, the perimeter of the fire, so they're knocking down the flames that are advancing," he explained. "What this does is, it gives our ground crews, municipal firefighters the opportunity to get in in a safe manner and actually extinguish that perimeter."

Asked about damage to farm and ranch infrastructure, Schmidt said there has been some, but it's difficult to determine due to smoke and wind conditions in the area.

One hundred thirty-five firefighters are in the park, and a relief team was expected Tuesday, Notley said. Nine aerial tankers and 14 helicopters are being used. Forestry has 125 firefighters, 23 helicopters on standby, she added.

Both the premier and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips addressed concerns about delays in notifications from the Emergency Alert system and app. Phillips said she expected changes and improvements by the end of the day.

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